(Bloomberg) -- European Union defense ministers are debating whether to allow Ukraine to strike targets deeper inside Russian territory with weapons that have been sent by member states.

Up to now, the US and Germany in particular have been cautious about delivering military equipment to Kyiv that would have the range to strike targets inside Russia because of the risk of a broader conflict. After months of pleading from Ukraine, the US earlier this year sent long-range ATACMS missiles to Ukraine for use inside occupied territory.

“I truly hope that all the countries that have these assets will also give permission to Ukraine,” Estonian Minister of Defense Hanno Pevkur told reporters, adding that Ukraine was already striking targets in Russian territory with its own drones. “It cannot be normal that Russians are attacking from very deep into Ukrainian territory and Ukrainians are fighting with one hand behind their back.”

Ukraine is currently struggling to defend the Kharkiv region from Russian air attacks, given its proximity to the border. Kyiv’s allies are shoring up efforts to send Ukraine more air defense assets, but striking targets inside Russia, where its attacks originate from, could help mitigate the cost of defending Ukrainian cities with expensive missiles to counter Russia’s significant supply of cheap bombs.

A Russian strike on a home-improvement superstore in Kharkiv on a busy shopping day last weekend killed at least 18 people and wounded several dozen. Two days earlier, a Russian missile hit Ukraine’s largest publishing house, killing at least seven. Both attacks were launched from Russia’s Belgorod region, Ukrainian military said.

Belgium on Tuesday pledged to deliver 30 F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine by 2028, with the first expected to arrive this year. 

“The weapons we deliver, as clearly stated in the agreement we signed, are meant to be used by the Ukrainian defense forces on Ukrainian territory,” Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo told reporters.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy visited Belgium to sign a security cooperation pact, and also signed an agreement in Portugal on Tuesday afternoon. The Portuguese government said it will give Ukraine at least €126 million ($137 million) of military aid in 2024, including financial contributions and equipment.

Zelenskiy hailed the deal with Belgium, saying in a post on X that the country is also delivering at least €977 million in military aid this year. 

“We can’t, it’s a fact, risk the support from our partners, so we aren’t using the partners’ weapons against Russian territory,” he said at a news conference in Brussels, adding that he’s asking his allies to allow retaliatory strikes in Russia.

On Monday, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg doubled down on his push to urge allies to lift restrictions on hitting targets in Russia.

“When we have delivered weapons to Ukraine it’s actually not ours anymore, it’s the Ukrainians’ and they have the right to self defense, including hitting legitimate military targets outside Ukraine and in Russia,” Stoltenberg told the NATO parliamentary assembly in Bulgaria.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said such a move is acceptable under international law because Moscow’s attacks on Ukraine are originating inside Russian territory. 

“The risk of escalation I’m sure will be put on the table by some but you have to balance the risk of escalation and the need for Ukraine to defend” itself, he added, saying the current situation was “completely asymmetric.”

Defense ministers from Latvia and the Netherlands also expressed support for the idea. 

Germany, meanwhile, is still holding back its Taurus system, citing concerns about the possibility for escalation and the need for German soldiers to operate the systems on the ground due to its unusually long range of more than 500 kilometers (310 miles).

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s chief spokesman Steffen Hebestreit told reporters on Monday that a state under attack can generally defend itself with strikes against targets also outside its own borders because this is in line with international law. “And then it is always a question of the proportionality of the attack in question,” Hebestreit added.

--With assistance from Daryna Krasnolutska, Alberto Nardelli, Katharina Rosskopf, Michael Nienaber, Megan Howard, Aliaksandr Kudrytski, Joao Lima and Henrique Almeida.

(Updates with agreement signed with Portugal in eighth paragraph)

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